While the Chinese government would like us to believe that the coronavirus is slowing down, on the contrary it is now spreading its wings across continents and has become the biggest threat that the world collectively is facing currently as the coronavirus becomes a global epidemic with over 25 nations battling the deadly virus.
Iran has now become the country with the highest coronavirus death toll as the Iran government has confirmed 15 deaths from the new coronavirus amid 95 cases in Iran. The situation is so bad is that Iran’s deputy Health Minister has also tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Like China, Iran is also facing similar accusations of attempting to cover up the count of coronavirus fatalities.
Iran’s case mirrors that of China. Both have authoritarian regimes which are clearly ill prepared to tackle the virus. Iran’s economic volatility further makes it difficult for the country to have sweeping measures against the virus. In China, the virus majorly spread due to the government’s refusal to accept the existence of the virus in the early stages and hence, during the lunar new year celebrations, mass gatherings and travel took place which allowed the virus to spread across the length and breadth of China.
Iran due to its links with the Middle East also sees wide scale religious travel taking place which is a huge cause of concern for the entire Middle East.
“Iran is perhaps the first example of a high incidence of COVID-19 in a country with relatively weak public health infrastructure,” Hasnain Malik, Dubai-based managing director for frontier markets equity strategy at Tellimer, told CNBC. Iran has about 1.5 hospital beds per 1000 people, which is about half the level of the U.S. or Saudi Arabia, Malik said. “It is inevitable that we will see more examples across Asia and, perhaps, Africa.”
The virus is now starting to spread its tentacles in Asia as Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Oman reported their first cases of coronavirus earlier this week. Additionally, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and even Canada have reported cases they say stemmed from Iran.“The regional repercussions are greatest for the tourist and pilgrimage centers like Dubai, Mecca and Karbala (in Iraq) and any associated companies,” Malik said. “Regional airlines, particularly those already squeezed by high debt, are among the companies being most severely hit,” he added. While countries like Turkey, Armenia, Pakistan and Afghanistan have closed their borders and Iraq has blocked travel to and from Iran, Iran is still allowing air travel to and fro from China.
The virus is having serious economic impact as on Tuesday by the market close, the Shenzhen component dropped 3.02%, while the Shenzhen composite fell 2.705%, and the Shanghai composite shed 0.83%.South Korean stocks also fell as coronavirus cases in the country surpassed 1,100 by Wednesday. The Kospi index dropped 1.28% by the close. Dow futures dropped 350 points late Wednesday after US health authorities said they’ve discovered a case of novel coronavirus in the country without knowing its origin. Other major US indexes also declined in after-hours trading. S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures each fell 1.3%.
Europe has also not been spared from the virus as Greece, Georgia, Finland and Norway too have now reported its first case of coronavirus with Germany claiming that the country is headed for an epidemic. Health Minister Jens Spahn said that Germany is at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic after new cases sprung up that can no longer be traced to the virus’s original source in China. “The infection chains are partially no longer trackable, and that is a new thing,” Spahn said. “Large numbers of people have had contact with the patients, and that is a big change to the 16 patients we had until now where the chain could be traced back to the origin in China.”
Italy saw more than 150 confirmed cases of coronavirus last week sparking widespread fears, prompting to lock down at least 10 towns, close schools in major cities and cancel sporting events and cultural touchstones, including the end of the Venice carnival. Early last week, Italy had only 5 confirmed cases of the virus which registered a huge spike during the weekend.
In the region of Lombardy, 10 towns were locked down after a cluster of cases suddenly emerged in Codogno, southeast of Milan. Residents were supposed to leave or enter the towns only with special permission, affecting at least 50,000 people and by Sunday night, police officers in surgical masks were waving down cars.
The alarm bells have spread across Europe as the central identity of the bloc — open borders will be severely tested by the threat of coronavirus. Recently, Austrian officials stopped a train en route Italy to Austria and Germany to test passengers for the virus. The Austrian interior minister, Karl Nehammer, said the tests came back negative so the train got the “all clear.” France Health Minister Olivier Veran said: “There is a problematic situation at the door, in Italy, that we are watching with great attention.”
Coronavirus has emerged as the biggest threat that the world is facing currently.